The five leading presidential candidates each have something unique to offer. Ultimately, we will support the candidate whose values, proposition, and leadership style is most congruent with ours. It’s a personal decision. As a columnist of 11 years, I have always been open about my views on matters of this sort — so let me share how I arrived at my choice.
For those who don’t know me, I am a 54-year-old economist, businessman, and writer. I am a family man with a loving wife and an amazing daughter who recently joined the workforce. I lived through seven presidencies, beginning with that of Ferdinand Marcos. I experienced, first hand, the ups and downs of our country — benefitted from its many opportunities and suffered through its imperfections.
I belong to the generation that bore the brunt of a broken economy in the early 1980s and the difficult path towards paying our mountain of debts and building our democracy. It was my generation that witnessed the demise of our agricultural sector and the steady decline of our manufacturing industries which continues until today. In the late 1980s, my peers and I had no choice but to flee the country to find jobs. Those who stayed had to suffer through a power crisis, a water crisis, a transport crisis, and a phone crisis. Worst of all, it was my generation that suffered the indignity of being Asia’s sick man while our neighbors prospered.
My life’s journey led me to value economic prosperity and wealth generation. For me, wealth is an enabler of a good life. It affords us our basic necessities — food, shelter, clothing and education — and the freedom to pursue our own happiness, however way you define it. This is why my presidential choice hinges on who will do best for the economy.
For me, a good president is one who operates with purpose — one who leads according to a well-defined plan and well-defined goals. Hence, fundamental to my presidential choice is the candidate with a sensible, realistic, and reasonably ambitious socio-economic plan. I view presidential candidates with no such plan as highly suspect.
Equally important to me is a leader who will not tolerate corruption in its many forms, whether it be through influence peddling, graft, conflict of interest, or outright stealing. Corruption is the evil that robbed us all of prosperity in the first place. It is the reason why poverty is all around us, why the country’s wealth is inequitably distributed and why social services are wanting.
A thriving economy starts with good governance. If the government can be trusted to lead with competence and honesty, then the private sector will be encouraged to invest and generate jobs. Conversely, if the investing public has no confidence in the abilities or motivations of the Chief Executive, they will simply take their investments elsewhere — most probably to Vietnam. In short, wealth generation starts with confidence in the national leadership.
With unemployment levels at 6.6% and poverty rates at 23.1% of the population, we simply cannot gamble with our presidential choice. At present, 2.3 million Filipino households suffer from severe hunger. For those unaware, severe hunger occurs when a family goes without food for more than one day. Meanwhile, 11.2 million households suffer from moderate hunger having skipped at least one meal a day. To take a risk on a candidate who carries the baggage of corruption or one who is bereft of a good professional record is reckless. It is a disservice to our countrymen who already live hard lives and who live from hand to mouth.
Policies are important to me, especially those that affect the pillars of the economy.
Agriculture is crucial since it is where 28% of our countrymen derive their livelihood. Yet, its contribution to GDP is only 9.6%. Low farm outputs have consigned the majority of our agricultural workers to subsistence farming. This is why I will support the candidate who supports the vital laws needed to reboot our agricultural sector.
It all starts with the enactment of the Land Use Law. We simply cannot continue reducing our farmlands and converting them into subdivisions while our population grows. Likewise, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law must be amended. The average farm size today is below one hectare with a maximum holding of five. The maximum size of land holdings must be increased to 25 hectares to permit industrial farming. In terms of financing, banks must be mandated to appropriate 15% of their loan portfolio towards the agri-agra sector. These are just the tip of the iceberg. The agricultural sector needs sweeping reforms from end to end of the supply chain to unlock its bountiful potential and improve the lives of our farmers.
An upshot of developing our agricultural sector is weaning ourselves from import dependency even for such basic food staples as rice, corn, beef, chicken, and sugar. We should never be at the mercy of other countries for food.
The development of industry is where real wealth is generated. Unfortunately, due to a dearth in fresh investments in the last six years, we’ve lost traction in the industries that used to drive the economy, namely, IT-BPOs, electronics, and, to a certain degree, manufacturing. It is vital that the next administration modernize these sectors by encouraging fresh investments.
My vote will go to the candidate who sees beyond the present and whose intention is to future-proof the economy. This is the candidate who plans to elevate our IT-KPO (Information Technology-Knowledge Process Outsourcing) to one that is a specialist in artificial intelligence, animation, game development, information and knowledge management, robotics, cloud technology, and software development. It is important too that the candidate lay development roadmaps for maritime industries, auto and automotive parts, green industries, climate-resilient industries, next generation electronics, electric vehicles and parts, and creative industries, among others. These industries can drive the economy to prosperity in decades to come.
I scrutinized the economic development plans of VP Leni Robredo, Isko Moreno, Ping Lacson, and Manny Pacquiao. Bongbong Marcos has not published a plan or a semblance thereof yet — not on his website nor on any form of print media.
Among all the plans I reviewed, Leni Robredo’s Hanapbuhay para sa lahat (A Livelihood for all) touches on all the critical areas that matter to the economy. Under her leadership, we have the best chances of getting out of poverty and generating wealth for all. This is why Robredo is my presidential choice.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist